Night Terrors

by | Apr 1, 2011 | 1 comment

Audrey had started having night terrors a few months before you left.  At first we were so confused, but after doing some reading, I learned about them.  She’d basically be half asleep, but awaken in this dream-like state screaming in this horrifying way and completely unreachable.  She would bat me away not understanding that it was me.  The choice would be to either wake her up somehow or not respond in the first place.  Having had some of these when I was younger, I wanted to wake her.  Sometimes taking her into the kitchen, turning on the lights, and opening the cold refrigerator would do the trick.  Immediately, once she’s awake, she sits on my lap looking a bit dumbfounded and exhausted and will happily go back to her bed and sleep.

When you left, I was worried that she might have one of these while you were gone.  They’re quite scary to deal with in the middle of the night alone because one feels so helpless when your child is screaming uncontrollably and not really awake.  It had brought me to tears in the past.

I think she had one or two of these night terrors since you left, (you never did return) but it’s been months.

Well of course she had to have one the first night your parents were staying over.  She woke up with that blood curdling scream.  At first unaware that this was a night terror, I tell her, it’s OK- mommy’s right here- you can go back to sleep.  But I quickly find out she is not awake.  Her eyes are mostly shut as she screams.  I turn on the light.  She writhes in my arms screaming for …me.   My mother in law cracks open the door and comes in trying to comfort her.  I hold her helplessly explaining that she isn’t awake.

It took a good 30 minutes for me to get through to Audrey.  I finally did by telling her I’d just seen the moon outside and spoken to him.  It caught her attention and she stopped screaming and came to.  Then I sang a song about it as I rocked her back and forth.  She was back. She willingly went back to sleep.

My mother in law comments on how scared she was and how she’s never seen anything like it.

The next day we stop at Whole Foods for flowers and my dad drives us, along with a friend of mine, to your grave, while my mom watches Audrey.  Audrey seems shocked when we are all leaving- and I know she senses we are not going somewhere fun though she doesn’t understand and I don’t explain these things to her yet.

In the car, I am crying- looking out at the industrial setting on either side of Route 3…hating the place where I buried you.

My friend holds my hand and makes conversation and small talk with your parents.

But mostly, staring out the window- I think thoughts like this, “Where are you Dan?  What’s going on?  What is this?”  Mostly I am confused and disoriented.  I don’t understand anything and literally think this must be what insanity feels like.  I think about Audrey’s night terror and feel that I too, might not be fully awake somehow.  There must be something separating me from the rational world.  Inside I am writhing and kicking like she did against an unknown enemy, but outside I am staring and frozen.  I guess I’ve established some kind of routine by now for Audrey and I and being a daughter in law again has tilted the axis of my “new normal” (probably the “grief” term I loathe the most.  Can’t someone come up with something better than that please?”).

We pull up.  We have some trouble locating your plot.  I have not purchased the stone yet.  This is awful- I think.

We cry once we determine it.  We stand and take turns.  Your mother kneels with the red and yellow tulips and cries the way I heard her cry at the funeral.  Your father sobs quietly.  My father cries.  My friend grips me from behind.

I feel I might never stop crying if I do not monitor myself.  I feel I could cry for hours and days and months here like this.  It is inconceivable that you are here.  I am not here.  I don’t know where I am.  I look around at the grounds of the cemetery.  I look at the NY skyline in the distance.  I place my white hydrangea in the middle and the white ranunculus stem from my bouquet at home across it to make a cross.  “Julia loves hydrangeas,” I can hear you saying proudly.  “No, now my favorite flower is peony,” I reply.

I kneel and touch the dirt.  It is still so dry- like last time.  With my hand on the dirt, a strange calm comes over me.  Yes, you are here.  Does it mean there is an invisible world if I can feel that.  I feel close to you.

All of us stand and your father prays.

I eye my own grave.  “Which side of the bed did he sleep on?” the grave caretaker had asked me when I chose the plot.  “The left,” I guess.  We’d slept on different sides in different apartments.  We even changed a few times here.  I’m not sure I didn’t pick that because you read left to right.

“I am coming,” I say to you.  It feels morbid, but it is true.  “I’ll be there…I’ll be with you…”  I think.  And I will be.  Is it a gift to have this kind of perspective at 34 years old?  I think it probably is. (but one I’d gladly return)

“Julia…we could not forget him,” your father tells me lovingly, “so we decided to live with him.”  They tell me about how they speak to him and think of him always.

On the car ride home, I feel I could go to sleep and sleep for a few days- I am so emotionally drained.

I hate that I feel jealous when I hear my mother in law say “yubo” or tell me she’ll share the water bottle I hand her with her husband.  But I do.

I think about how you died in 3 meters of water, but how there is no end to the depth of this sorrow.  It is an endless hole- expanding like the universe.  I think about the vastness of the universe- and of space.  I read about what we know about its shape and size.  It may be infinite.  This comforts me.  Is infinite eternal?  If it is, then eternity exists no?

I also think about how before you died, this world of sorrow existed- but it was invisible to me.  I saw only postcards written from it- on the news or from other people.  Now I live here.  Again, I must always emphasize, it truly is not my old world with the insertion of pain- but a completely different world I find myself in.  And I think to myself, if this world always existed invisible for the most part- and certainly unknown by me- isn’t it possible there are more worlds out there that I do not know.

Every widow or widower I talk to agrees that for months or even years they wake up sincerely hoping it was all a bad dream and they will find their spouse lying next to them.  I feel this too, though secretly, I know by now it is not.  But what if I am not sleeping- in a nightmare, but rather your death is what awoke me…half-way.  Half of me- you- is there- fully awake now.  But the rest of me is still blind to true reality.  Isn’t it possible that like Audrey I still have my eyes closed as I scream into the darkness, believing I am awake.  My father in law buys Audrey a Bible at the bookstore and tells me to read her a bit each night.  “This may give her confidence if she has another nightmare,” he tells me.

Isn’t it possible that I too am being held lovingly the way I hold Audrey even while I writhe?  I will not know that for some time probably.  But certainly it is possible.

For now, I send these postcards from here.
I comfort my daughter.
I visit your grave and I cry.
But mostly I wait

“but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”  1 cor 13.10


April 1, 2011

1 Comment

  1. Ann

    i never know what to write so i hardly comment, but thank you for sharing julia. your words have a profound impact on me, i'm amazed at your insight and i am so very sorry that this is your reality, life without dan, life with tremendous grief. i wish i could help somehow.


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